By Antonina Zielinska
In Sheepshead Bay, Catholics and Jews cheerfully shared grape juice, matzoh and bitter herbs during a model Seder dinner.
St. Mark’s parish invited Rabbi Claudio Kupchik, from the Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach, to teach about the Jewish Passover feast.
Father Robert Mucci, pastor, started the program by expressing his gratitude to the rabbi for coming to teach Catholics about Passover traditions.
“It connects us to our roots in faith,” the pastor said. “And we learn the traditions of our older brothers in faith.”
Rabbi Kupchik also started his talk with thanks, to all those who made the dinner possible, including those who could not be there.
“I would like to thank someone, who is not alive today: Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli,” the rabbi said, referring to Pope John XXIII. “Without him, we wouldn’t have this event. This event is testimony to his faith, his work and his holiness.”
He then went on to lead the hundred or so Catholics and Jews gathered through the steps of the Seder dinner, which memorializes the Jews’ journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promise land.
Rituals of Remembrance
Bitter herbs and unleavened bread, matzoh, are mandatory staples of the dinner, each eaten in rituals to help participants remember the Jewish roots in slavery and to have a better understanding of those who are in extreme poverty and physical slavery today.
The matzoh, for example, is broken in half to better empathize with those who do not have enough to eat. In poverty, people put away part of the little food they may receive because they do not know when their next meal will come.
The rabbi explained that the highly symbolic rituals of the day, such as dipping fresh vegetables in salt water and leaning to the left, like royalty, while drinking four cups of wine or grape juice is meant to spark the curiosity of the children at the family dinner. Children are often highlighted during the feast, with blessings and a recitation of questions and answers. Jewish families are meant to encourage children to learn more about their beliefs and traditions throughout the Seder. A more formal readings of the Passover and faith-based discussions are essential parts of the celebration.
The Seder is a joyful event celebrating God-given freedom. This was visible also at St. Mark as the participants shared in food and laughs. Although the Catholics at the dinner at times seemed unsure of what to do, the rabbi kept the mood light and explained the various parts with patience and levity.
After the dinner, in accordance with tradition, there was time for theological discussion. There was a heated, but friendly, debate on whether the Last Supper was a Seder.
Thirteen-year-old Jennalynn Langaman came to the model dinner with her Confirmation class as part of her preparation for receiving the sacrament. She said she enjoyed being at the event. Although she said she was confused at first a bit, she started to understand more as the dinner went on.
Aside from logging some extra volunteer hours by serving dinner to the guests, she said the event has been a profound educational opportunity for her. Now she has a better understanding of the customs of the people who worship at the synagogue across the street from her house.
She said she better understands the similarities between the religions and hopes more people can learn the same. If more people learned about different religions, then there would be less disagreements in the world because people would realize how similar they are, she said.
“We pray for peace and we thought this (model dinner) was a good interreligious beginning,” said JoAnn Pino, the parish’s director of faith formation who organized the event.
She said she wanted to make the dinner a requirement for Confirmation candidates because it teaches them tradition, community and heritage.
The whole event was made possible thanks to the marriage of Debbie Madigan Brandman and Larry Brandman. Larry is Jewish and attends the Temple Beth El and Debbie and their children are parishioners at St. Mark. Pino prepared their children for the sacraments when they were children. Larry is also involved with the parish community and served on the sesquicentennial committee. So, the Brendmans were able to connect the two religious together for the model dinner.
“I think this is great, for both our wonderful religions to come together,” Larry said.